Neil Pinder’s postcard from Venice
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Neil Pinder’s postcard from Venice

‘The present is tearing up the past!’

Neil Pinder is the founder of HomeGrown Plus, an organisation dedicated to improving diversity within the built environment by helping students from non-traditional backgrounds access innovative and exciting opportunities in the industry.

He’s also really excited about the future of architecture.

After spending a week in Venice for the opening of the 18th Architecture Biennale Neil speaks vividly about his pride in the individuals and collectives shaking things up and carving out new paths.

Throughout his career Neil has been a huge force in diversifying the sector; spending decades demystifying architecture for young people from non-traditional backgrounds via projects like Celebrating Architecture, GLAM (Gucci Louis Vuitton & Me), Wearable Architecture online zoom workshops and NY-LON (New York-London) architectural exchange.

In recognition of this work, he was appointed an honorary professor at the Bartlett, an RIBA Fellow, and was recognised last year with an AJ100 Contribution to the Profession Award.

But when asked how he’d like to be credited, it’s for his time at Graveney School, ‘as a teacher who inspires students from the global majority to live their best lives be creative and get into architecture.’

Here are some of Neil’s highlights from his visit to the Laboratory of the Future:

neil-brit-pavilion Runout – Mac Collins, 2023

1. The British contingent

On Dancing Before the Moon, at the British Pavilion, curated by Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham, Neil says:

‘It was quite emotional. I texted my wife and said ‘I’ve found my creative soul. All these subliminal images recall parts of your own history. All their pieces were edgy but represented what we’ve seen around London, what we see in the Caribbean, all with different voices but the same creativity. Venice has never, ever seen, or heard such a party – it was off the scale!’

He remembers Joseph Henry when their paths first crossed at Graveney School, where the now British Pavilion curator was then a talented sixth former studying design under Neil’s tutelage:

‘Joseph was this young guy, bright-eyed, really good at making and listening. He said he wanted to be a product designer – I said forget that, be an architect. He told his mum and she said, ‘listen to the teacher!’’

Meanwhile, at the Arsenale, Neil highlighted Those With Walls for Windows, a large-scale multimedia work by poet and artist Rhael ‘LionHeart’ Cape Hon FRIBA, as well as the Tropical Modernism exhibition curated by Nana Biamah-Ofosu and Bushra Mohamed from the Architectural Association and Christopher Turner of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which ‘ticked all the right boxes.’

2. Indigenous representation

Two pavilions that piqued Neil’s interests both foregrounded the experiences of indigenous communities:

At the Nordic Countries pavilion, one of the few practicing Sámi architects Joar Nango has created ‘Girjegumpi: The Sámi Architecture Library’, bringing together more than 500 books on Sámi architecture, design, including traditional and ancestral knowledge.

At the Canadian pavilion, Architects Against Housing Alienation launched Not For Sale! A political campaign manifesto, including calls for in situ First Nations housing – Neil noted the pavilion’s ability to amplify and interrogate global issues, in a local context.

venice-sami Girjegumpi: The Sámi Architecture Library by Joar Nango

3. Constant evolution through disruption

‘Everyone brings something different to Venice…everyone changes or reshapes what the Biennale means. It was born out of conflict and protest and has always represented the passion of artists, creatives and architects.’

Neil references Hans Haacke’s 1993 Golden Lion-winning work for the German pavilion, which saw Haacke tear up the Nazi-era floor of the pavilion. As well as the French accusations of ‘American cultural colonisation’ in the 1960s and more recently the Chinese withdrawal from the Biennale in response to Killing Architects – Investigating Xinjiang’s Network of Detention Camps.

Thunder and Şimşek – Jayden Ali, 2023

4. Breaking down walls and bringing the Biennale back to London

Neil is a firm believer in what he calls the circular economies of education and of architecture. He references his own experience of volunteering as a steward at the Sunken House during the Open House festival (hosted by Open City), and his delight at meeting the architect, David Adjaye during the Biennale this year.

Meanwhile back in south London, curator Joseph Henry is a regular visitor at his alma mater Graveney School, to speak to students, host workshops and in 2015 as part of the design team (alongside Urban Projects Bureau) behind the new sixth form block.

In practical terms, Neil sees a regenerative energy in the legacy of this year’s Biennale, and a very, very bright future:

‘We should champion what we did. No other country represented the global majority like we did: self-representation, collaboration, thinking far beyond what was expected.’

Quoting filmmaker Oscar Boyson, he describes this year’s ground-breaking exhibitions and pavilions as ‘the present fighting the past…an opportunity to watch a country find a new identity or reshape its past.’

HomeGrown Plus is dedicated to improving diversity within architecture and the creative industries.

Dancing before the Moon is part of the Biennale Architettura, open now until Sunday 26 November.